At 1-4, the Cougars are merely trying to save face by beating the Bears. But at 2-3, WSU has a real chance to make something of this 2014 season. If the Cougars can get to 3-3, they have three winnable home games remaining, and under Leach, have proven to be a tough out on the road.
Why not 7-4 or better? Why not qualify for one of the Pac-12’s better bowls?
OK, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but the fact remains, the good that was accomplished at Utah is all undone if the Cougars lose Saturday to California. Get to 3-3, and the sky – or at least a decent altitude – is the limit for the Cougars.
The learning process appears to have accelerated at Cal, which no longer looks like a gimme for the Cougars. Cal is 3-1, and really should be 4-0; the Bears dominated Arizona for three quarters and lost due to a Hail Mary heave on the final play of the game in a 49-45 loss to the Wildcats.
True, the Bears haven’t played a schedule as difficult as Washington State’s, but 3-1 for a young, improving team is big. They’re growing in confidence and capable of playing beyond their abilities.
With five of Cal’s final six games against top 20 teams, the Bears might be thinking this is their last great shot at getting a win. At least the Bears know what they’re getting in Washington State, as both teams use some of the same passing game principles.
As you might expect, Cal is among the national leaders in passing statistics. The Bears are No. 2 in passing efficiency, fifth in scoring offense (47.5 ppg), eighth in passing offense (363.8 ypg) and 13th in total offense (536 ypg). Where the Bears struggle is exactly what will excite the Cougars: pass defense: Cal is No. 123 in pass defense (349.8 ypg), No. 69 in pass efficiency defense, No. 110 in total defense (477.8 ypg) and No. 104 in scoring defense (35.8 ppg).
Saturday night’s game features two of the country’s top quarterbacks in WSU’s Connor Halliday and Cal’s Jared Goff. While Halliday is No. 1 nationally in passing yards, Goff isn’t far behind at No. 9, averaging 334.8 yards per game.
Curiously, while the Bears throw the ball a lot, they don’t have a single receiver among the nation’s top 100 in receiving yards; WSU, by contrast, has four among the top 50. Trevor Davis leads the Bears with 12 catches for 220 yards, while three others are near 200 receiving yards in Bryce Treggs (12-192), Chris Harper (11-184) and Darius Powe (9-188).
One difference between the Bears and Cougars is that Cal puts more emphasis on its running game. Daniel Lasco leads the Bears with 55 carries for 347 yards and two touchdowns. In last Saturday’s 59-56 overtime win over Colorado, Lasco ran 18 times for 108 yards.
Defensively, the Bears don’t have a sack specialist – the team leaders are defensive ends Brennan Scarlett and Todd Barr with two each. Safety Griffin Piatt leads California with three interceptions, while the Bears’ tackle leaders are linebackers Jalen Jefferson (22), Jake Kearney (16) and Michael Barton (16).
The series: Last season, Halliday passed for 521 yards and three touchdowns to lead Washington State to a 44-22 win over Cal in Berkeley. Goff also had a big day, with 489 passing yards. The Cougars never trailed, but it was only 21-15 at hafltime. WSU scored two third-quarter touchdowns, including one on a 72-yard pass from Halliday to Vince Mayle to take a 35-15 lead.
Last year’s win ended an eight-game losing streak to California. The last time the Cougars beat the Bears in Pullman was 2001, a 51-20 victory.
Familiar faces: Former Cougar David Davis is a Bear defensive lineman by way of JC ball after leaving WSU. The Bears’ lone player from Washington is redshirt-sophomore cornerback Cedric Dozier (Tacoma), who strongly considered the Cougs before picking Cal. Bears coach Sonny Dykes spent seven years coaching for Mike Leach while at Texas Tech, as receivers coach (2000-04) and offensive coordinator (2005-06). Defensive Backs coach Greg Burns Burns was a four-year letterwinner (1991-93, 1995) and three-year starter at Washington State. He earned both his bachelor’s degree in psychology and his master’s in counseling psychology from Washington State.
Read Nick Daschel’s occasional Pac-12 ramblings at twitter.com/nickdaschel